Movie review: Citizen Kane (1941)

Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, starred in, and produced this classic, often considered the finest film ever made. He was a mere twenty-five years old and Citizen Kane was the first film he directed.

Citizen Kane starts with the death of a newspaper tycoon, isolated and alone on his estate in Florida. A newspaper seeks to cover the news of his death but need a fresh angle. They latch onto his final words—Rosebud—and seek to uncover what it meant.

To get to the bottom of the final word spoken, a newspaperman interviews various people who were important at some point in Charles Foster Kane’s life—the guardian who raised him until he came of age, the general manager of his newspaper, his best friend from college and his early work life, his first and second wives. With each interview, the film plays out what the newspaperman learns about Kane.

We learn about his entire life, from his early childhood when he was taken from his parents to when his second wife left him. Kane uttered the word that he would again speak before dying—Rosebud—just as he picked up a snow globe when his second wife left him. The newspaperman comes to the end of his investigation none the wiser about what Rosebud meant.

However, as the audience, we are privy to more information.

Kane was an immensely wealth man who collected art and, well, stuff. After his death, all of his possessions were crated and categorized, enough to fill several museums. What was not considered worth anything was thrown into a furnace by workers. It is here that we learn the providence of Rosebud.

Rosebud was the name written on the sled that little Charlie was playing with in Colorado when he was suddenly taken from his parents to be raised by a guardian. Rosebud represented his youth, happy days, the love of his mother. He spent his whole life looking for love from everyone around him, but died alone and lonely, a narcissist who could never think of anyone but himself and his needs.

Citizen Kane was innovative in many ways (cinematography, editing, sound) for the time period and included solid performances. The narrative structure works and survives the decades well. I couldn’t help but think of William Randolph Hearst as I watched it. In fact, Hearst noticed the parallels too. His power was enough to limit and delay the release of the picture but not prevent it from ultimately being released.

Despite Hearst’s attempt to block the film, Citizen Kane was well received though not initially a commercial success. The movie holds a special place in filmography, influencing many movies that followed.


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